July 3, 2013

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5 NFL Teams That Will Surprise in 2013

By: Matt Bowen

With both the NBA and NHL crowning their champion in the recent weeks, sports fans are in dire straits. Correct, MLB is entering the meat and cheese portion of its season, but it’s not enough. Simply put, we need more. When it comes to sports we can never get enough.

Besides beloved baseball, what are we left with?

In comes creeping the oh-so-infectious NFL. It’s been months since the last NFL action. Honestly, if there were 52 Sundays in an NFL season, that still wouldn’t be enough. Admit it, you’re excited for football—you’re ready for it to invade your life once again.

Will the Detroit Lions return to the playoffs in 2013?

With that being said, let’s forecast who the top five surprise teams will be in 2013.

Kansas City Chiefs

Wow—2012 was a year to forget for the Kansas City Chiefs organization. It was a season brought them the overall No. 1 pick.

While it’s always nice to have top choice, it usually means that team owned the worst record in the entire league. This was true for the Chiefs as they only managed two victories. This year promises to be better for the Chiefs.

New to town are both head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. This is enough to give the Chiefs faithful hope. It’s safe to say that the franchise is starting with a clean slate. Look for running back Jamaal Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to torment the opposition this season—both men welcome the team’s changes with open arms.

Things are beginning to look up in Kansas City.

Miami Dolphins

Young quarterback—check.

Positive free agent noise—check.

Round 1 draft splash—check.

New logo—Yup.

Right now, it seems as if the Miami Dolphins can do no wrong. Let’s not forget they toyed with the playoffs last year too. They won seven games when they were written off in the preseason. One may be asking, “How are they considered a surprise this year if they were last?”

It’s because the Dolphins still aren’t taken seriously. Well, the time for that poor notion of thought to subside is now.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill now has a viable receiving threat in free agent acquisition Mike Wallace. The team also rolled the dice and traded up to take defensive end Dion Jordan at No. 3 in the first round of the NFL draft. Look for him to cause havoc in the near future.

The Dolphins X-factor resides in their running game. Young backs Lamar Miller and rookie Mike Gillislee will be uber-flashy out of the backfield this season. Both are sleepers in fantasy mode, but neither should be forgotten about.

Great things are on the horizon in Miami.

Cleveland Browns

Really? The Cleveland Browns?

You’re eyes are not playing tricks on you—the Browns are a serious threat to all who cross their path this season.

The team did a magnificent job recruiting talented coaches in the offseason. New head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner will do nothing but good for the young Browns offense.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden will benefit most from the experienced coach staff. Running back Trent Richardson will reap the benefits of a bolstered passing game. The team plays in the ultra-competitive AFC North, but will be a real spoiler this season.

A new day is upon us in Cleveland.

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions make the list simply because they could surprise either way. The sad part about that last comment—lifelong Lions fans are accustomed to losing.

Truly, this is a make-or-break season for the front office along with head coach Jim Schwartz. A single playoff appearance in 2011 just won’t cut it. After a decade of torture due under ex-GM Matt Millen’s grand scheme, the fans need a winner.

The team is obviously loaded with talent, but must execute smart football for a complete 60 minutes 16 times this season.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford can always lean on wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but not as much as he has in the past. Stafford throws the ball too much and the unbalanced offense is known to all. The offseason addition of running back Reggie Bush could be the perfect fit, but only time will tell.

If the defense shows up when it counts and can hold a lead the Lions will win double-digit games. If not, the outcome will be all too familiar.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of reason to believe in Detroit.

St. Louis Rams

Hey, the St. Louis Rams have a great head coach in Jeff Fisher, so wining shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fisher and fans expect to win, but that doesn’t mean outsiders see them as predators.

The Rams surprise this year because quarterback Sam Bradford proves that he’s a franchise quarterback. The 25-year-old shot caller will have a definitely good season this year. Since Fisher has come to town the team has acquired a ridiculous amount of speed in the receiving corps. Also, the addition of monster tight end in Jared Cook this offseason will help Bradford in the red zone.

The running game could be a sore spot in the offensive attack. For this, expect offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to stuff the game plan with multiple packages that keep opposing defenses off balance.

Just like the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North, the Rams will throw a real wrench into the plans of the favored NFC West teams this year.

December 18, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

A lot changed in the NFL in Week 15. Fans in Washington, Minnesota and Dallas saw their playoff hopes improve dramatically. And if you are rooting for Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh or the New York Jets…your hopes either took a major hit and/or are gone all together. Here’s how I have them ranked with two games to go.

1 San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) — As the Nature Boy Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” The Patriots were at the top last week and the 49ers went into New England and won. San Fransisco is now “The Man.”

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers haven't given up on this season.

2 Atlanta Falcons (12-2) — Talk about making a statement. If anybody wants to get to New Orleans, they are going to have to go through Atlanta.

3 New England Patriots (10-4)Tom Brady was on the verge of one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. But the Patriots couldn’t finish it off and likely cost themselves a playoff bye.

4 Houston Texans (12-2)
— One more win ought to be enough to lock up home-field advantage in the AFC. It won’t be easy with the Vikings and Colts both fighting for wild card spots.

5 Denver Broncos (11-3)
– The Broncos may be the biggest winner of week 15. Home wins over the Browns and Chiefs will clinch the No. 2 seed and a first round bye.

6 Green Bay Packers (10-4) – The NFC North champs have won eight of nine and have their sights set on the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first round bye.

7 Seattle Seahawks (9-5) – After putting up 108 points in the last two weeks the Seahawks are one win away from getting into the playoffs (probably) and have an outside shot of stealing the NFC West from San Fransisco.

8 Dallas Cowboys (8-6) – Somehow the Cowboys got off the mat and won five of six. If they can make it seven of eight they should be NFC East champs.

9 Baltimore Ravens (9-5) — Remember when the Ravens were on the verge of earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs? A desperate New York Giant team could give them a fourth straight loss and make the Ravens at Bengals in week 17 for the division title.

10 Washington Redskins (8-6) – Five straight wins have the Redkins at the top of the NFC East. A win at Philly this week will set up a huge week 17 showdown with the Cowboys.

11 Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) – The Bengals can make the playoffs with a win in Pittsburgh. A loss makes things very interesting.

12 New York Giants (8-6) – Did the Giants just sneak in an extra bye week? Sunday’s game in Baltimore is a must win.

13 Indianapolis Colts (9-5) – The Colts should have no trouble with the Chiefs this week. A win should keep them from having to go to New England in the first round.

14 Minnesota Vikings (8-6) – If the playoffs started today….with Houston and Green Bay left on the schedule, they have started for the Vikings.

15 Chicago Bears (8-6) — Wins in Arizona and Detroit won’t be enough to get the Bears in the playoffs. They need help.

16 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) – Despite losing four of five, the Steelers can make the playoffs by winning the last two games. Their reward for doing so? Probably the Patriots.

17 New Orleans Saints (6-8) – This season cannot end fast enough for the Saints now that they are out of playoff contention.

18 Carolina Panthers (5-9) –  Don’t be surprised if the Panthers finish 7-9. This is one team that hasn’t quit.

19 St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) – If everyone in front of them loses, a win would give the Rams something to play for in week 17.

20 Miami Dolphins (6-8) – Surprisingly, the Dolphins still have hope. They must beat Buffalo and hope the Steelers beat the Bengals to go into week 17 with a chance.

21 Tennessee Titans (5-9) – Is Jake Locker the future for the Titans? I’m not sure they know the answer.

22 New York Jets (6-8) – The Jets looked more like a team playing for the top pick in the draft than a playoff spot on Monday night.

23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
– That 41-0 beat down ensured the Bucs won’t have to worry about making a trip to the frozen tundra in January.

24 Arizona Cardinals (5-9) – Nice win for the Cards. With the Bears and 49ers coming up, they were looking at a 12-game losing streak to finish the season.

25 Detroit Lions (4-10) – The Lions are a candidate for most disappointing team of 2012. They could lose their last eight games.

26 Cleveland Browns (5-9) – You heard it here first. Cleveland makes the playoffs in 2013.

27 Buffalo Bills (5-9) – Maybe the Bills are the new Redskins? Let’s see if they try to win the off-season for the second year in a row.

28 San Diego Chargers (5-9)
– The window in San Diego is officially closed. Time to rebuild.

29 Oakland Raiders (4-10) – The Raiders haven’t allowed a point in five quarters.

30 Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) – Eagles are headed for 4-12 with two playoff hungry opponents remaining but they would love to knock the Redskins and Giants out of the race.

31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) – GM, Head Coach, quarterback and even franchise location are question marks? That’s not good.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) – The Chiefs appear to be a lock for 2-14 and the first pick in the draft.

August 23, 2012

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AFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

One year ago, I went three-for-four picking NFL division champs and my Super Bowl team was a last-second missed field goal away from sending the AFC Championship game to overtime. What will happen this season? Only time and reading the rest of this article will tell.

The Bills will challenge, but the AFC East still belongs to New England.

AFC EAST
Is it just me or does it feel like there is a changing of the guard happening here? It has been a two-horse race with New England on top with the Jets right behind in the wild card race for the last few seasons. That changes in 2012 because the Buffalo Bills have come to crash the party. Buffalo went on a major spending spree during the offseason and built what could be the best defensive line in the league. If they get a solid season from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills will be in the playoff conversation in December. The Jets will be the most talked about team in the league. But not for the right reasons. Tebowmania has come to New York and already chased one quarterback out of town. This is still Tom Brady’s division but now it will be the Bills trying to keep pace.

Division winner: New England

AFC NORTH
Three AFC North teams went to the playoffs in 2011 with just the Browns staying home. That won’t happen again. Cleveland had a franchise-altering offseason though, drafting stud running back Trent Richardson and bringing in rookie Brandon Weeden to be the quarterback of the future. There is too much drama already going on in Pittsburgh. Some important players are still banged up. Mike Wallace is still holding out and the team can’t go more than a day or two without a fight at camp. Suddenly, the Bengals look like the team of the future in the North with new quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green leading the way. But this year it will go through Baltimore. The Ravens have several veterans looking for one more shot at a ring after falling just short of the Super Bowl last year.

Division winner: Baltimore

AFC SOUTH
Things can change a lot in a year. The Colts have relinquished their stranglehold on the South and put their future in the hands of Andrew Luck. That leaves the South as Houston’s division to lose. The Texans finally made the jump to division champs last year and may have gone to the Super Bowl if Matt Schaub could have played in the playoffs. If he and Andre Johnson can stay on the field all year, there will be at least one playoff game in Texas in January. The Jaguars and Titans have given the keys to sophomore quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. This could be a real interesting division for years to come with three young quarterbacks going at it. Not much drama in 2012 though.

Division winner: Houston

AFC WEST
It’s not very often that a division champion wins a playoff game and then trades its starting quarterback. It’s also not very often that one of the best quarterbacks to ever play becomes available. Peyton Manning replaces Tim Tebow in Denver and will be the story of the West in 2012. It will be the most competitive division in 2012 just like it was in 2011 when everyone but the Chiefs went 8-8 and Kansas City was 7-9. It could come down to Peyton Manning, Darren McFadden, Jamal Charles and Antonio Gates. Who stays healthy? Who has a down year? Who regains their form and has a monster season? We won’t have a winner until week 17 when Oakland goes to San Diego and Kansas City visits Denver.

Division winner: Denver

Wild Card winners: Kansas City, Cincinnati

AFC champion: Houston

June 8, 2012

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Where Will Ochocinco End Up?

By: Junior

With news coming out yesterday that Chad Ochocinco was released by the New England Patriots, speculation has started on where the wide receiver could end up next year. It has been a rough year for wide receivers in the NFL. Terrell Owens has been unable to land with a team, Hines Ward retired maybe a bit earlier than he wanted to, and now Chad Ochocinco needs to find a home. So which teams could be interested in the former Pro Bowl wide receiver?

Could Chad Ochocinco and Trent Richardson be teammates next season?

Houston Texans

If the Houston Texans have interest in Ochocinco, you would have to think they would be the favorites. The team on my list with the best chances of making it to the playoffs this season, Chad went to the Patriots in the hopes of winning a Super Bowl.  The Texans made the playoffs last year and might see Ochocinco as the WR they have been looking for to free Andre Johnson of constant double teams.

Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have some precedent with this type of signing, having picked up Terrell Owens in 2009. The Bills started off last season with a 5-2 record before eventually ending up 6-10. That fast start, with the free agency addition of Mario Williams and the drafting of Stephon Gilmore could be enough to entice Ochocinco. The Bills don’t have much in the WR department outside of Stevie Johnson, so Ochocinco could be a solid addition to their offense.

Cleveland Browns
This might be a long shot, but the Cleveland Browns desperately were looking for a WR going into the NFL Draft, and while they came out with a new QB and RB, they still are thin at wide receiver. The Browns aren’t considered likely candidates to make a big playoff run, but with a revamped offense, Ochocinco could be a missing piece to a rebound season.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins lost their #1 receiver in Brandon Marshall during the off-season, when they traded him to the Chicago Bears. They may find Ochocinco to be too much of a distraction for their team to gamble on, but they could definitely use the help. Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill could use some help with targets to throw to and there aren’t many WR’s of Ochocino’s caliber available on the free agent market.

St. Louis Rams

Sam Bradford is a solid young QB on a pretty awful St. Louis Rams football team. With WR’s Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson as his wideouts, you have to think Bradford would welcome Chad Ochocinco to the offense. Jeff Fisher has taken a gamble on an older receiver before, having acquired Randy Moss while he was the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. I am not sure Ochocinco would go to a team that has struggled like the Rams have, but right now, his options are limited.

April 26, 2012

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NFL Mock Draft

By: Junior

NFL Mock Drafts are never accurate, but they are incredibly fun to make and tear apart after 10 picks. Here is my mock draft attempt:

1.       Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

The pick is already in. The Colts will rebuild around their new franchise QB.

2.       Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Mike Shanahan hopes RGIII is what the Redskins need to get them into the playoffs.

The Redskins will rally around RG3 and look to him to make a playoff run in the NFC East.

3.       Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The first pick that hasn’t already been made, the Vikings give Ponder a LT to grow with.

4.       Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

The Browns cannot pass on a stud RB to help control clock in the AFC North.

5.       Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

The Bucs get the top CB in the draft, and the eventual replacement of Ronde Barber.

6.       St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Sam Bradford gets his #1 receiver for years to come.

7.       Jacksonville Jaguars – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Jacksonville could go in a lot of directions, but I really like what Gilmore brings to their defense.

8.       Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Miami is desperate for a QB, and I think they reach to get one with the 8th pick.

9.       Carolina Panthers – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

Panthers need help up front and Fletcher Cox is a safe player with Pro Bowl potential.

10.   Buffalo Bills – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Kuechly would be another great addition to the Bills re-stocked defense.

11.   Kansas City Chiefs – David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Guards don’t normally go this high in the draft, but DeCastro isn’t a normal guard.

12.   Seattle Seahawks – Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Seattle needs to be able to get to the QB and Coples can provide just that.

13.   Arizona Cardinals – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Larry Fitzgerald has faced constant double-teams since Anquan Boldin left. Floyd can change that.

14.   Dallas Cowboys – Mark Barron, S, Alabama

Barron immediately upgrades their Secondary and starts Day 1.

15.   Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Andy Reid loves to build depth on his lines in the Draft. Brockers would be great in rotation.

16.   New York Jets – Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina

Rex Ryan would love having teams guess where Ingram will be lining up each play.

17.   Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Corner is a big need for the Bengals, and they get a stud in Kirkpatrick.

18.   San Diego Chargers – Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois

Mercilus can be the rush OLB the Chargers have been missing since Shawne Merriman.

19.   Chicago Bears – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Could go WR, but with Reiff still on the board I think they try to keep Jay Cutler upright.

20.   Tennessee Titans – Cordy Glenn, G/OT, Georgia

The Titans need help at Guard and Tackle. Glenn can play either spot.

21.   Cincinnati Bengals – Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

The Bengals are back on the clock, and fortify the interior line for Andy Dalton.

22.   Cleveland Browns – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

With Trent Richardson already selected, the Browns continue to upgrade their offensive weapons.

23.   Detroit Lions – Jonathon Martin, OT, Stanford

The Lions may look to trade down with no corners of value here. If not they have to get a Tackle.

24.   Pittsburgh Steelers – Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

With no offensive lineman to pick, the Steelers would love to add Hightower to their linebacker corps.

25.   Denver Broncos – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

Denver has a HUGE need at DT. They get a HUGE DT in Poe.

26.   Houston Texans – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

A big WR opposite Andre Johnson could be too good to pass up.

27.   New England Patriots – Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise St.

The Patriots need a pass rushing OLB and McClellin would be a great fit.

28.   Green Bay Packers – Doug Martin, RB, Boise St.

The Packers could easily go with either Upshaw or McClellin, but getting the #2 RB would help as well.

29.   Baltimore Ravens – Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

With Hightower gone,  Konz could be the pick, but an OLB opposite Terrell Suggs could be lethal.

30.   San Francisco 49ers – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Harbaugh likes tough, smash-mouth football. Konz could fortify the line for the 49ers.

31.   New England Patriots – Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

No one thinks the Patriots make both 1st round picks, but Smith fits a need.

32.   New York Giants – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

The Giants always go best player available. Fleener is that guy in this draft.